Love’s Journey

Continued from Decision

“Love is the beginning of the journey, its end, and the journey itself.” ~ Deepak Chopra

Not long after ‘decision day’ I was at church, me and the girls. I was hurting and looking for support. Sometimes, and many of you can attest, a church is a busy place, especially on Sunday’s. It wasn’t the time or necessarily the place for a full-on discussion about the events unfolding in my life but I wanted to at least let Pastor R know something was amiss. As we made our way through the ‘receiving line’ to share our regards, I gave him a little hug and said softly “things are bad, history is repeating itself”, believing he would understand since he was so instrumental years ago after Hubby’s first indiscretion. He smiled, nodded, and hugged me back. I went home and waited for him to call.

He didn’t call. I went to church again the next week – this time by myself because Hubby was with the girls. There is no doubt in my mind that I looked sad… most nights I cried myself to sleep in those early weeks. I waited for him to make eye contact with me so that I could telepathically share my pain with him, or at least make sure he was able to notice my demeanor. I had been a part of that church since its organizational days and knew most people there as we were still a small group. No one asked about the family. No one asked me how I was doing. I might as well have been invisible that day. I bypassed the line of people waiting to say hello or otherwise to Pastor R and headed home with deep disappointment.

I didn’t go back. I waited though, waited for R to call… waited for someone from one of the home groups or ministries to call and at the very least make sure everything was ok… nope. Didn’t happen. I know that I could have picked up the phone and called someone, I know that I could have reached out to R again, and I know that it wasn’t anyone’s direct responsibility to keep track of me but I expected it. I expected my faith community, people who had known me for seven or eight years to at least ‘notice’ that I wasn’t there week after week and to find out why.

Describing the disappointment is difficult because the rational part of me wants to take responsibility for not communicating properly about it. The emotional side of me, however, went directly to that place where abandonment resides; fortifying some internal creed that was now easily triggered. Many of the criticisms I had about organized religion were validated in this failure. The negligence that I perceived from this spiritual community was flawed by my expectations and forced me to investigate why I had developed them. In addition, it created an opportunity for me to better understand what I wanted from people who share my beliefs. The icing on the cake was when the leader of the finance ministry called to schedule our annual commitment meeting. I think I hung up on him.

I never did return to that community and no one ever asked why. I tried a few other churches in the area and I was always unsatisfied with either the contradictions, the hypocrisy of the congregants (some of whom I had known through the years, realizing that they were ‘fair weather’ church goers) or the degree of fundamentalism and rigidity. I just cannot relate to a literal translation of a Biblical text. I read the bible as a teen and took the opportunity to read it again, the New Testament mostly, during this time… I read it with a different perspective, a more open mind to language and metaphor. I thought long and hard about the idea that I was created in God’s image… what? God was a tall, heavyset, white female? Did I look like him more before or after my tenth birthday? Why is God depicted as male? Why old? Why do we think of God in human terms at all?

One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard about imagining God came from an interview of Deepak Chopra on The View – an ABC television program. They asked him “how do you envision God?” and he replied, “to visualize God is to limit God.”  Something important clicked for me in that explanation. Then, in the Brian Weiss book Messages from the Masters, he writes that a Soul Master defines Love… “Love. Everything is Love… Everything is love. With love comes understanding. With understanding comes patience. And then the time stops. Everything is now.  Love is our nature. We are Love. … Love is the ultimate healer.”

I started to assemble a collection of ideas across various world religions and there were similarities that resonated within me deeply.

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I knew I didn’t have to be a practicing Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc…, to embody these tenets. Moreover, I knew that when I focused on Love, I felt God’s presence no matter where I was. I chose to simply BE love as much as was possible and to foster and grow the spirit of love in my life whenever and however I could.

Many of us have great intentions and I am no different. I was good at loving people, paying it forward, growing my faith … until… Hubby and Abee entered the picture. It was there that all my faith was challenged and I grew to believe that they had been sent into this life for the sole purpose of generating obstacles for me on my spiritual development journey. It was working…

I found myself turning to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Here, I discovered more validation for my pain as well… “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others”. I, like countless others, was known to beg for a response to the question ‘why me God, why me?’ It’s incredibly difficult to accept extreme circumstances as purposeful without some paradigm of faith and so I found resolve in these words. More importantly, it was yet another source confirming the necessity of Love… offering sentiments such as “Life minus love equals zero.” And “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.”

I turned to Deepak Chopra to learn meditation and here is where I found profound peace. I heeded his words “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you” and when I was angry, frustrated, scared, or unsure I sat still and followed his voice into a state of calm that offered the most incredible tranquility and comfort. In those moments, I imagined myself wrapped in a cocoon of light, in the arms of God’s love and I was safe.

The Status Quo

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion” ― Voltaire

Francis started seventh grade and we enrolled Sara in a preschool program close to home. The teachers were warm and loving and she treasured going there two mornings a week. It was my first experience with the traditional ‘suburban mom’ protocol. Someone organized a coffee morning for the moms, allowing us to become more familiar with one another. As may be typical of this kind of gathering, a few of us generated an immediate connection. One woman in particular – I will call her Dee – was super friendly; we seemed to have a lot in common.

Dee and I quickly established a rapport as we recognized how many common interests we shared. We would stand outside of the school in the mornings chatting away as long as the kiddos we still had in the car either napped or played nicely. We each had three children although our oldest and youngest were very different ages. We loved to cook. We loved to sew. As weeks went by we drew closer and the friendship deepened. I was still talking with Michele almost daily but Dee filled another gap in my life, offering local comradery. We developed the habit of spending those two mornings a week together, either running errands or sitting with our coffee and planning our family dinners. Her husband travelled most weeks for work and since my marriage was either hot or cold, we seemed to fill a companionship need for one another.

One evening in the late fall as it was just beginning to turn really cold, Dee’s heater went on the blink. I was talking with her by phone as I prepared to leave for a cake decorating class I was taking weekly and suggested that she come to our house for the evening. Hubby had heard me talk about Dee and the children incessantly and as our home was large, there was plenty of space in the basement rec room for Dee and her kids to bunker down for an evening. I let him know she may be coming before I got home and left for class.

Later that night as I pulled into the driveway, I saw her car and was really glad to know that my friend had taken me up on the offer. At least she would be warm until the furnace was repaired the following day. I hurried into the house and found them – Hubby and Dee – drinking a beer and having a grand time laughing, stating that they were sharing stories of one thing or another – getting introduced. I joined them. We were up fairly late but it was the best kind of ‘sleep over’ and I was just a little sorry to know that she would be going home in the morning. As it turned out, she had to stay one more night before the heat was completely repaired. It was time that cemented our bond. Our friendship grew.

We began spending time together as families. Her husband was generally home on the weekends and so at least bi-monthly we would take turns hosting one another (and family) for dinner and movies or cards. Generally, the kids got the movies and we intended on cards but rarely completed a game. We laughed, told stories, and talked about children. The men shared common interests as well, even if most of them centered around cigars and beer. We spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t long before Dee would call our house if she needed help with something midweek while Tom was out of town. Hubby would run over and fix whatever needed addressing; sometimes we would do it together. Tom was always grateful. The ‘helpfulness’ was reciprocated. If I got sick, Dee would show up with a complete meal – kid friendly – and include a six-pack of Hubby’s favorite beer. One winter evening the four of us had attended a comedy show in town but had driven separately I think. I specifically recall that on the way home, we discovered them on the side of the road with a blown out tire. Hubby stayed with Tom to address the problem and I took Dee and her babysitter – home. Being friends with them was easy and comfortable.

Also notable in this time period is our change in Church affiliation. Our pastor was deepening his fundamentalist perspectives and many of them fervently contrasted with some of our individual core beliefs. Although we definitely enjoyed the community and the musical elements of the worship services, the sermons (and expectations) were developing further than our spirits were comfortable with. We instinctively knew it was time for a change. Fortunately for us, a new Lutheran church was being started in our area and we were introduced to the founding Pastor by way of a family friend who had been part of his old congregation. He was seeking charter members and with our ‘spiritual pioneering’ expertise, we were easily recruited. Once again, we were insanely involved in the operations of a young faith community.

This time around, the tradition of the Lutheran service / doctrine was more pronounced. In actuality, we were challenged to introduce any contemporary components mostly due to the aging demographic of the people who were showing up on Sunday. We held services in a school cafeteria but everything else reeked of old customs. It was comfortable for me although it dampened my spiritual growth temporarily as it wasn’t tested –  openly at least. We were both participating in several areas as neither one of us felt as if we could say no to God.

For the most part, our lives were full. We had a new house, a new church, a new baby on the way and we had just branched out on our own professionally. For the first time ever, we were not affiliated with any other ‘entity’ or group. Hubby became a ‘sole practitioner’ and I was his associate. My role was administrative and extra support when the occasional need occurred for my area of expertise. Most of the time I worked from home at night – after everyone was in bed. I didn’t earn an income from working as we already paid the full Monty of self-employment tax. Had I taken an income from our business, we would have paid double. (P.S. – Don’t ever do this!! Each person should be contributing to Social Security so that you have a genuine earning history.)

Our financial situation was pretty rough during these days. Starting a business takes a fair amount of capital and financial risk and we worked in a commission only based business. We struggled to make ends meet and got really creative with when to pay Peter and put off Paul or vice versa. I made a pound of hamburger stretch for two meals and repurposed everything WAY before it was cool to do so. One of my favorite things to do was go ‘yard sale’-ing. In fact, I looked at it as an adventure! At least, that’s what I told the girls. On Friday mornings I would put them in the car (with a properly packed diaper bag) and grab my map that had been routed and planned based on how much gas money I had that week.  I bought clothes, toys, household items, and Christmas presents at yard sales and auctions whenever possible. Actually, I had a reputation for doing so too. People eventually would ask me to be on the lookout for an item on their own wish list. Essentially, I learned how to make a little go a long way. It was my contribution to our goals of building the business as most of the money we made, went right back into it.

Unfortunately, under all of the positive, there ran a constant current of sexual discourse that had been present since the beginning. It never went away, just ebbed and flowed from day to day or month to month. Sometimes it was okay, others it was unbearable; it was never just good.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

Catholic Guilt

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.